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With Gaza cease-fire, Arab and European leaders look to secure peace

Two key issues are Israel's demand to stop arms smuggling and the Palestinian desire for an end to the economic blockade of Gaza.

By Ilene PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 18, 2009

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (r.) spoke Sunday at a quickly convened summit of European and Arab leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh designed to consolidate the gains of the cease-fire.

Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

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Jerusalem

With the violence stopped between Israel and Hamas, European and conservative Arab leaders turned their attention Sunday to securing a lasting peace deal.

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"We look forward to an end to this sad page. We must not lose hope in peace ... because a just and comprehensive peace is the true guarantee for the security of the region’s peoples," said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, host of a summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

"We are ready to cooperate with any efforts, especially Egypt . . . to reach a definite agreement that meets our known demands to lift the blockade permanently and open all border crossings," Hamas said in a statement.

Diplomats from Britain, the Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Spain, and Turkey, along with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, said they were looking for ways to secure a more stable peace by addressing the demands of the two sides.

Two key issues are Israel's demand to stop arms smuggling into Gaza, for which Europeans have offered military and technical assistance, and an end to the economic blockade of the territory that's been in place since 2007.

Israel, Hamas agree to cease-fire
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced on Saturday that Israel was declaring a unilateral cease-fire following an intensive three-week military campaign in the Gaza Strip, in which more than 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed. Hamas followed suit on Sunday, saying it and its Islamist allies in the Gaza Strip would cease violence immediately and give Israel a week to withdraw from the territory.

Israel has not agreed to pull its soldiers out of Gaza or to open crossings into the strip, raising the possibility that the cease-fire could turn into little more than a short break in hostilities.

Mr. Olmert’s cabinet voted late Saturday night to back a plan to halt the offensive dubbed “Operation Cast Lead” amid mounting international pressure to reach a cease-fire with Hamas. Following a week of failed efforts on the part of Egypt, France, and Secretary-General Moon, to broker an official truce, Israeli officials began to declare over the last 48 hours that their main objectives in the war had been achieved.

“The conditions have been brought about that enable us to say that the aims of the operations have been reached,” Olmert said in a nationally televised address Saturday night. He said that if rocket fire at Israel stops, the IDF “will consider withdrawing completely from Gaza at a date that suits us.”

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